DH = Dear Husband
The marathon metaphor
There are different metaphors that we encounter and sometimes adopt in personal finance. When DH and I started our journey out of debt in June of 2012, I was set for a marathon. I knew it would take years, and I knew that we would be successful only with endurance and a stubbornly steady pace. There would be slow stretches when DH’s business income was low or when our expenses were high. There would be easier stretches with bursts of speed in months of good business income and low expenses. And there would be L-O-N-G flat stretches to test our resolve and build our endurance.
The uphill cycle metaphor
After our first year of debt-reduction, we had to come to a full stop for many months in order to save for a new roof. While a marathon runner might stop for a minute to take a drink of water, I didn’t think that this prolonged stop worked with the marathon metaphor. But it worked for the cyclist who had to pull over to – let’s say, change a tire.
It was Dave Ramsey’s metaphor of the cyclist going uphill that first inspired our determination to get out of debt when DH and I listened to his CD book The Total Money Makeover. Ramsey describes the uphill ascent, so steep at points that you have to stand on your pedals to push through those next few inches, and the glorious feeling of reaching the summit, knowing that the rush of an easy downhill is within reach. Woohoo!
Our marathoning and cycling-uphill efforts brought us a great distance. $21,000 in consumer debt: GONE. $81,000 in business debt: GONE. In June of 2015, we were debt-free except for the mortgage.
The core strength metaphor
Following Ramsey’s steps, we now had to shift our efforts. No longer would our focus be strictly upon debt-reduction. We would definitely stay on the path to debt-freedom and pay off our remaining mortgage, but there would be other efforts happening at the same time. We would save up an emergency fund to see us through 3-6 months of a loss of income. We would beef up our investments to 15% of our combined gross income.
This diversified focus made sense, but it had the effect of sucking my motivation. And it required a new metaphor. With money going in different directions, our progress seemed so much slower . . . and less satisfying, less exciting. I found the shift from debt-reduction to saving-and-debt-reduction disappointing. Rationally, I knew it was the right course of action, but in practice, it felt like too much effort for too little progress.
I knew by this point that making things right in personal finances was not about money. It was about character development. My own impatience was the obstacle here. A lingering immaturity, a persistent weakness. I needed to build up a new core strength in my personal finances. Just as a plank keeps the pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen working together in harmonious balance, I needed a pf core that would keep ALL elements of a healthy money makeover – debt-repayment, emergency savings, short-term savings, mindful spending, long-term investments, giving – working together. So it was time to breathe deeply, hold on longer, and toughen up.
The surfing metaphor
I have come to realize in the last few days just how significant international economic factors can be for the individual’s efforts to get out of debt. DH and I live in Canada, and the Canadian dollar has taken a real plunge in value lately. In 2013, our dollar was pretty well worth a U.S. dollar. Today, it’s worth 70 cents U.S.
Most of the purchases DH makes to run his business are for American goods and services, and over the Christmas rush, he made significant expenditures. When he sorted out his business accounts last week, he was floored by how much his balance had been drained. There was no “extra” to put towards the emergency fund from all of the crazy hours he had put in over November and December. It had all been eaten away by the “extra” he had to spend because of our weak dollar.
The idea of navigating larger forces beyond our control made me think of surfing, a sport in which your own skill and strength combine with natural forces moving the ocean. Sometimes, you catch a wave and enjoy the adrenaline rush of a long ride. Sometimes, those natural forces shift, or you misjudge, and a wipe-out results. At other times, all you can do is paddle and wait – and wait – and wait . . . until the next wave comes.
I surfed the internet for surfing analogies, and I found a great one at, of all places, the site BoxingScene.com. In a post entitled “When Life Gives You Waves, Learn to S.U.R.F.” Frank F. Lunn writes, “Change, difficulties, and adversity will happen. Your only point of control is the surfing skill set you develop to adapt and make the best of whatever comes your way . . . You cannot control the waves; you can only control your response . . .”
Lunn then spells out the S.U.R.F. Strategy:
- Survey the situation
- Understand your options
- Respond based on your goals
- Forward focus in action and attitude
So as DH and I ride out this wave of a low Canadian dollar, we’ll keep running – and cycling – and holding our core-strength-building plank – as we watch for the next wave to ride. We won’t wipe out with this one. We’ve surveyed and understood, and we’re responding by keeping our focus forward.
Do you have a metaphor for your personal finance journey? Is it one of the ones mentioned here? Or something different? Your comments are welcome.
*Photo courtesy of Cpl. Megan L. Stiner